High-profile, multi-millionaire Irish sports stars need to “give a little more back” to voluntary grassroots groups trying to develop the next generation of talent.
Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring, issued the call for action at the weekend, saying some of Ireland’s best-known athletes need to follow in the footsteps of counterparts like Italia 90 hero Niall Quinn by offering their services to the organisations.
Mr Ring said Ireland has repeatedly “punched above our weight” on various sporting fields, with the upcoming Six Nations, Euro 2016, All-Ireland championships, Olympics, and Paralympics likely to further showcase Irish talent.
However, he warned if we want this record to continue, the current headline-grabbing stars must commit to engaging properly with youth groups, voluntary workers, and grassroots clubs to help grow the next generation hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“The elite athletes, those who have done well out of sport, some of them could give a little more back. When they retire they could give a little more back,” Mr Ring said.
“I’m not talking about money at all, I’m talking about coming in and maybe taking an odd football team or hurling team [training session], odd boxers, giving them a bit of encouragement and a bit of coaching.
“These kind of people, men and women who achieve in sport, they are real ambassadors and kids look up to them. Take Niall Quinn, he’s very much involved in the sports partnership programme, he’s an example of what could be achieved.
While qualifying his remarks by saying “maybe, to be fair to them, people should be asking them to get involved” and that this may not have happened to date, Mr Ring noted that “disadvantaged areas” in particular are suffering.
“We don’t thank the volunteers in this country enough, if the State were paying, it would cost about €5bn a year.
“You wouldn’t have Rory McIlroy or Brian O’Driscoll or the soccer players or boxers without them, no one started at the top, it all starts in the little rural or city clubs in the depths of winter,” he said.
A number of high-profile Irish sporting stars have given their time and energy for free to help local and grassroots groups, many of whom are working with children who idolise the athletes.
Among the most notable names is Italia 90 hero and ex-footballer Niall Quinn, who, despite entering the business world since his retirement, still regularly takes part in training sessions with local football and hurling teams.
However, the informal policy is not guaranteed across the board, with many other athletes choosing not to get involved either while they are still playing or after they have retired.
Meanwhile, despite insisting 2016 will be a potential high-water mark for Irish sport, Mr Ring has admitted he is not a fan of every high-profile event.
The Fine Gael TD said sporting achievement has always been “what keeps the spirits alive” in Ireland.
However, when asked about the widely success of UFC fighter Conor McGregor, whose sport and self-promotion is lauded and ridiculed in equal measure, Mr Ring said he is not someone who agrees with its growing popularity.
“On a personal capacity it wouldn’t be a sport for me, it’s not one I would go across the world to see.”
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